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Kevin Costner's overdone Boston accent detracts from ''Thirteen Days''

But he’s not the first actor to stumble when playing a Beantown role, says Ty Burr

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Kevin Costner, Thirteen Days
Costner: New Line Cinema

Kevin Costner’s overdone Boston accent detracts from ”Thirteen Days”

Boston is part of the United States of America. It is not Estonia. It is not Norway. It isn’t even Canada. Thus there is no earthly reason for an actor to go all Meryl Streep and channel the spirit of the late Boston Mayor James Curley by attempting what the rest of the country apparently believes is a BAHstin accent.

Would that someone had told this to Kevin Costner as he was prepping for his role in ”Thirteen Days.” The movie, if you haven’t seen it, is quite good: a play by play account of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis that, by and large, avoids history class paralysis. In other words, for a movie that consists largely of white guys sitting in rooms talking, it’s pretty gripping. Until Costner, playing John F. Kennedy advisor Kenny O’Donnell, opens his mouth and says things like ”We ah tahking about pahssible nucleah WAH.”

Listen, I’m from Boston. (Brookline, to be precise, which is sort of like the Brooklyn of Massachusetts.) My parents are from Boston. NOBODY talks like this outside of the movies. Even the Kennedys didn’t talk like this, a fact which Bruce Greenwood, who plays President Kennedy in ”Thirteen Days,” has astutely noted in interviews, where he points out the difference between JFK’s speech making voice and his normal conversational tones. So why, for Pete’s sake, is Costner pahking his cah in this yahd?

In Costner’s defense, he’s fah, excuse me, far, from the the first actor to fall into said pothole. Think of Rob Morrow honking his way through ”Quiz Show.” Think of Diane Lane in ”The Perfect Storm,” wrapping her lovely face around lines like ”I love ya sew much, BAWB- by.” Think of all the actors (like Martin Sheen and William Devane) who have played the Kennedys in all those made for TV miniseries. None of them met an ”R” they were willing to pronounce.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that there is, in fact, a Boston accent. You can begin to tap into it simply by saying that something is ”wicked pissah” (a common and complimentary locution). And plenty of folks around the area still talk in those casual, nasal, broad cadences. But nobody leans on the accent like it was a car horn on Yawkey Way the way they do in the movies.

Listen to Mark Wahlberg playing opposite Lane in ”Perfect Storm,” for instance. He’s from Dorchester, Mass., and he properly pronounces it ”Dwa-chestah,” but he doesn’t flash the accent like a special effect the way Lane did, and the way Costner in ”Thirteen Days” do. Or listen to Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, both Cambridge boys, in ”Good Will Hunting” — they talk the accent like they’ve lived in it, which they have. The result is that you hear what Affleck and Damon are saying, not how they’re saying it.

The best way for an actor who isn’t from Boston to speak Bostonese? Let the locations do the talking and don’t bother with bogus authenticity. Look to producer David E. Kelley’s troika of Hub based shows for inspiration: No one in ”Ally McBeal,” ”The Practice,” or ”Boston Public” feels the need to smear their vowels around Comm Ave. If you must have an actor tahk the tahk, make sure he’s at least a New Englander, like John Ratzenberger on ”Cheers” (he’s from southern Connecticut, and he’s probably a Yankees fan, but we’ll cut him some slack this once).

And if you must go for broke, let it be in the service of comedy, as with ”The Simpsons”’ Kennedy -esque Mayor Quimby, or ”Saturday Night Live”’s beautifully brain dead townies, Sully and Denise, played by Jimmy Fallon and Rachel Dratch. That, my friends, not Kevin Costner’s ”Thirteen Days” mangle, is wicked pissah.